We had been walking for about an hour downtown when it hit me how much I don’t understand the depths and disguises of oppression. We met at Mcdonald's that evening to talk about the reality of what we were about to do…the goals, purpose, and how to be discreet so as not to bring attention to ourselves. I had never experienced praying to God in a way that made sure it didn’t look like that was in fact what we were doing. I come from a place, a city and a country where I can read my bible at a coffee shop and where it seems irreverent to not bow our heads when it’s time to pray. I was not in my city or my country though…I was in Sofia, Bulgaria. It was around 9:00 pm. And we were about to start walking the streets in order to pay attention to any activity that seemed like it could be a part of a dark, underground, high-grossing slave trade. We had set out, after praying with eyes open for our eyes to be opened, in order to notice women, men, and possibly children who are caught in the darkness of the Bulgarian sex slave trade.
The purpose? To add to a map and database any locations of possible brothels, clubs, hotels, restaurants or any place really that could have women enslaved, sometimes literally chained behind its walls, waiting for the night to get dark enough in order to be “brought to work.” When we first set out I figured we’d be looking for dark, hidden, grungy places even somewhat on the outskirts of the downtown area. In America if something is unpleasant we just zone it away or move away from it. We see it as something to avoid. I figured surely these are the places we’re talking about mapping out. An hour or so into our walk we passed what I consider the most beautiful part of Sofia. The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is set in the heart of the city and is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture I’ve ever seen in person. Right down the street is one of Sofia’s nicest hotels and I noticed as we walked by just how incredibly fancy the cars out front were. It was then that Beth, a missionary in Bulgaria, leaned over to me and pointed at one of these beautiful vehicles and said “see those cars?”…”they belong to politicians, leaders, those in power here.”…”see this hotel?...there are girls forced to be there even locked up in one of the hotel rooms. Users can walk up to the counter at this hotel and just ask for a girl and they’ll instantly get what they want.”
My time in Bulgaria was unlike the other trips I’ve had the honor of going on in the last year. Haiti has oppression screaming at you on every corner. After literally seeing a woman beat and spit on in the street, One can’t help but see oppression. Rwanda has a history of dark racism leading to a genocide that can’t be ignored and that permeates through each person’s story. In Bulgaria…the oppression became evident in the darkness of night outside a fancy hotel. Bulgaria’s oppression is subtle. You see it in the way a 20 year old girl is obsessed with the idea of coming to America because it is then that her life will be worth living. You see it in the way an entire country is speckled with the remains of communism on every corner, and you see it at 10:30 pm outside a 5 star hotel when it’s realized that all that separates you from the darkest of worlds...
is a wall.
Still…there is hope. There are those who walk the streets weekly to start relationships with these victims. There are those who have coffee with that 20 year old and invest in her weekly in order to bring good news. News that one day this disappointment and desire for escape will all be made right.
If you would like to give to the Mission to the World Bulgaria team visit www.mtwbg.com
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Thanks for reading and for stopping by...More to come,